Highlanders fall to Martinsburg
WHEELING -- Martinsburg had to survive some anxious moments in the final two minutes before players and coaches turned to their fans and held up four fingers to signify four state championships.
Huntington High quarterback Clark Wilson's pass on a fourth-and-30 at its 38 with 1:29 left went incomplete, the Bulldogs took over and ran out the clock to escape with a 9-7 victory in the Class AAA football championship game on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Wheeling Island Stadium.
"I'm really excited for the kids," Bulldogs coach Dave Walker said. "The seniors (who won state titles all four years) are special. I've known many of them since they were 2 or 3. To see them come this far and do it is special."
Martinsburg won, but didn't put up the numbers its fans are used to seeing as Huntington High, the No. 1 defense in the state, limited the Bulldogs to 83 total yards (minus-31 in the second half). On the flip side, the Bulldogs made it more than tough on Huntington High's rushing attack. The Highlanders got 78 of their 103 total yards in the second half.
"We showed we can play," Highlanders coach Billy Seals said. "No shame in finishing second. It hurts. You did what people thought you couldn't do. We hear all week we're going to get the heck beat out of us. They found a way at the end. Four in a row is a huge accomplishment."
Top-rated Huntington High (13-1) got on the board with just over six minutes left when it drove 80 yards in 18 plays (all runs) and with the help of two penalties to cut it to 9-7 on Paden Christian's 1-yard TD run.
After a three-and-out by each team, Huntington High punted with three minutes left and Eric Mitchell of the Bulldogs fumbled on the catch. The Highlanders recovered at the Martinsburg 42 with 2:51 to go. However, the No. 2 Bulldogs (13-1) showed they could play defense and pushed the Highlanders back to the 38 and held on downs.
Play got chippy in the final minute, but officials kept peace and players and coaches exchanged handshakes at midfield when the game ended.
""You're always worried until the end," Walker said. "We tried to give it away. We're on edge until the clock strikes zero. We had some opportunities to widen the gap, but didn't.
"It's No. 1 vs. No. 2. It should come down to the end."
Huntington High's defense made it a long day for quarterback Malique Watkins, the catalyst in Martinsburg's spread offense. He closed with 21 rushing yards and completed just 3 of 8 passes for 39 yards, but one went for a score to put the Bulldogs up 9-0 by halftime.
The Highlanders, though, failed to complete a pass for the second straight game.
"It feels go good," Watkins said. "Titles all four years. Our defense did the job when we needed it."
Seals said the Highlanders achieved goal one on defense by containing Watkins. Up front, senior tackle Nigale Cabell penetrated the Martinsburg front all afternoon and stuffed plays before they developed.
"We did a good job on Watkins," Seals said. "He didn't throw that great except the one jump ball they won. We hung in there. After the muff, we try to get to the 30, kick and win it. Unfortunately we didn't. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We played our guts out and came up two points short.
Martinsburg, which has not lost to an in-state school since the playoffs in 2009, had outscored its first three playoff opponents, 125-49.
In the first half, Martinsburg had short fields four times because of field position changes on punts, but managed just nine points.
The first points came with 8:31 left in the second period when the Bulldogs put a heavy rush on a punt and blocked the kick by Ryan Gatrell. The ball went back into the end zone and then rolled out for a two-point safety.
Martinsburg's defense forced another three-and-out and got the ball at the HHS 35 after a Gatrell punt. On second down, Watkins found Tory Lee open down the middle and the receiver out-jumped a defender to make the catch for a 25-yard gain down to the 9. Two plays later, Watkins went play action and found Troy Walker all alone in the end zone for a 5-yard TD pass and 9-0 lead.
Martinsburg limited the Highlanders to one first down in the first half. The Highlanders crossed midfield just once and that lasted just one play and the Bulldogs forced a big loss on the next snap.
Charles Crawford led Huntington's running game with 61 yards on 16 carries.
MARTINSBURG 0 9 0 0 -- 9
HUNTINGTON HIGH 0 0 0 7 -- 7
M -- Safety, blocked punt out of end zone
M -- Walker 5 pass from Watkins (Boeckmann kick)
H -- Christian 1 run (Stevens kick)
First downs 9 7
Rushes-yards 32-44 48-103
Passing yards 39 0
Total offense 40-83 55-103
Punts-avg. 6-40.5 8-31.9
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 7-49 10-59
Possession time 21:38 26:22
RUSHING -- Martinsburg: Watkins 22-21, Lindsay 8-13, Brown 2-10. Huntington: Crawford 16-61, Christian 15-54, Tubbs 10-9, Gibbs 1-minus 1.
PASSING -- Martinsburg: Watkins 3-8-0, 39 yards. Huntington: Wilson, 0-7-1, 0 yards.
RECEIVING -- Martinsburg: Walker 2-14, Lee 1-25.
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